"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Monday, September 23, 2013

Oy vey.

So much to do, so little will to do it.

I'm home again from all the conferences. I swear I love the SoCal Writers Conference oodles, but it wears me out. I come home both energized to be a writer and too pooped to pick up a pen. I'll give you a few highlights before I say, "Neener, neener, you missed it." Then of course I'll direct you to the page for the February conference in San Diego.

I can never get a clear picture of Michael - he's always on the move.


I sat in some really good ones. Marla Miller and Jennifer Silva Redmond always run a great workshop they call The Pitch Witches. Read your pitch, then sit back and learn. I usually don't have anything to pitch, but I love to go and hear what works and what doesn't work. Pitches, loglines, and jacket blurbs are harder to write than the damn book.

My other favorite workshop was Jenny's on how to be your own acquisition team for your own book. It involves a lot of talking to yourself, which I'm good at. Marla and I snuck into Drusilla Campbell's NovelCram, just to watch her work. Totally cool.

I gave two workshops. The first one, "I've Written the End - Can I Self-Publish Now?" went really well and we had quite a few people. (BTW, the short answer is No. The long answer is Hell, no.) The second one, "Rhythm, Pace, and AMUSEment" also had a fairly large audience and was well-received.

Here's the thing: I use PowerPoint slides for both, mostly to keep myself grounded and on track. Both workshops have an equal number of slides. The self-publishing workshop ran out of time. I ran through the rhythm and pace workshop slides within half the allotted time. We still kept talking about writing and editing and things we do for craft, but if Michael asks me to teach this again, I gotta expand the slides by a bunch.

Several people asked me for copies of my slides, so I must have done a good job!


For the first time as a workshop leader, I was given two (!) submissions by authors for me to read and evaluate. The first one even requested me. I was excited yet frightened. Both manuscripts showed promise. I liked a lot about each one. However, both required work. Would the writers take my notes in a positive light, or would they assume a defensive position and argue with me? Would they be sane or make me call Wes for security?

They were both lovely women who were anxious to learn, to have their questions answered, to have me say what they suspected. It was a wonderful time.


This is my tribe, my group of people that I can discuss writing and publishing and not feel self-indulgent because they're up to their ears in the same topics. If I list everyone I saw and hugged and talked to, well, I'm sure I'd leave someone out and then they'd read this and be disappointed. I hung out a lot with my editor, Jennifer, and with Marla, slummed a teeny bit at the registration table with Melanie, Laura, Heather, Oz, and Rick, and finally caught up with Claudia from Michigan. I see these people on Facebook a lot, but it's not the same as face time.

I also got to chat with the directors, Michael Steven Gregory and Wes Albers. We were missing a few faces this time. Judy Reeves and Cricket Abbott got some kind of waiver to do other things, Laura Taylor had an emergency (she's fine, thanks), and Rick's wife Linda decided at the last minute she was just too exhausted to drive up. To show Linda how much we missed her, Jen and I took pictures of each of us kissing Rick and Jen posted them to Facebook.

That's just how much we care.

Heather was the person who summed up the weekend for me. We were both dragging our tushes around the conference rooms on Sunday morning, after being up WAY TOO LATE Saturday night. She said she had been so tired she was almost falling asleep and knew she should go to bed, but she loved being around these people so damned much, she couldn't leave the party.

That was my feeling, too.


Neener, neener, I got to spend a fabulous weekend doing fabulous things with fabulous writers. Jealous? Then here's the link for the February event. http://www.writersconference.com/sd

See you in San Diego.

Friday, September 20, 2013

It's a busy life

Sorry I haven't been around. This week, I went to Monterey to a conference held by the California Special Districts Association. The CSDA is important to me because I am a trustee on the board of the Placentia Library District. Our library is a special district. Our funding comes from property taxes and goes directly to us. Yes, we know we are blessed.

It was my second year of attending and I must say, I got more out of this year's conference than last year's. Mostly, I got enough information to wonder if we've got all our bases covered in our policies and procedures, from social media to bid protests. It was a call to action.

Monterey was beautiful and cool, which felt good after the weeks of 100-degree weather we've had in southern California. On the last morning, I couldn't find any classes that applied to me as a trustee, so Dale and I snuck down to the pier, had breakfast at LouLou's Griddle in the Middle and watched a huge group of sea lions battle for a spot on their own floating dock.

We got home Thursday evening, and I immediately unpacked, did laundry and repacked for this weekend.

I'm going down to Newport Beach to the Southern California Writers Conference. It's a totally wonderful conference and I've told you and everyone within listening distance about how wonderful it is. It's where I sold my first novel. It's where I got the inspiration for Snoopy's memoir. It's a working conference, geared toward giving participants a full-range of writing, from the craft to the business.

I could go on and on, extolling its virtues, but I'm not going to. I'm just going to go to the conference, teach two workshops, have a most excellent time, then come home and tell you all about it. And then won't you feel jealous?

(Hint: They still have room for a few walk-ins.)

See you next week.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The first cut's always the deepest

And the first chapter is always the hardest. Did I start at the right place? Is my opening strong enough? Will the reader keep reading?

I'm almost, this-close to finishing the new mystery, aka Murder on the Hoof. Everything about it has been difficult, but especially the opening. My Peri series usually opens with the crime, followed by Peri and her cohorts discovering whodunit. I didn't want this one to start like that.

So here's the first chapter. It hasn't been edited yet, so it's probably rough. If you have comments, that's great. If not, that's okay, too. I think I just wanted to get this out in public so I could stand back and go, "Hmm, yes, now that I see it..."

* * * *


It was his blue eyes that made Willie want to turn and run. The color of arctic glaciers, their iciness popped from the long dark eyelashes surrounding them. He used them quite effectively, staring through her with no expression.

It wasn’t the first time a pretty boy looked through her, and at her age, it wouldn’t be the last. Her gaze flinched, but she planted her feet.

“Tyler?” she asked, extending her hand. “I’m Willie Adams. My trainer, Emily Jungers, is meeting me here to look at one of your horses.”

He remained in his seat and stretched out his hand to meet hers. It was a slow, deliberate move, as if he considered whether to shake her hand or not. His palm felt firm and stiff, one pump of a shake, then withdrawn.

“Nice to meet you.”

Willie glanced at the makeshift tack room, a stall used to contain saddles and blankets during the horse show. She could still see a corner of the large red sign hung on the front of the barn aisle, proclaiming “Tyler Ransome Performance Horses” in large black letters. Two canvas-backed folding chairs sat, unopened, against the faded beige wood. Within the shadows beyond the door, she spied saddles on racks.

She looked down at the travel mug of coffee in her hands, and found herself taking small, nervous sips to fill the silence. The warm aroma of hazelnut caffeine was crowded by the smell of hay and horses and leather. A rattle of spurs made her look away, thankful for the break from discomfort. Emily Jungers, a tall, lithe redhead, strode toward them and held out her hand. “Tyler, good to see you.”

The cowboy unfolded his long limbs from the chair and stood, offering his hand in return. “You wanted to see the little mare?” He pointed down the barn aisle and strolled away with Emily.

Willie took a step to follow, then looked down at the cup in her hands. Once a comforting distraction, it now felt awkward. She glanced around. There was no table outside to leave it, so she went to the tack room and stuck the cup inside the door, then scampered after the two trainers.

She watched Emily’s long legs keeping an easy stride with Tyler, but Willie either had to trot to catch them or continue to walk smoothly with her short legs and get there when she got there.

Damned long-legged people, she thought. Would it kill them to slow down for us shorties?

Horses stuck their heads over stall doors on either side. She looked at her watch. It was just past ten, so they were probably waiting on a mid-morning snack. The air was warming toward its goal in the high eighties, a typical July day in southern California. She looked at each face as she walked by, savoring their beauty, then regarded the people walking in front of her.

The girls at her stable were right. When she had mentioned him, Elliot’s owner Barbara had said, “Ooh, Tyler Ransome, rhymes with handsome.” He was easily a head taller than Emily, broad-shouldered and lean under his grey tee-shirt. Strong features in a chiseled face, with bright blue eyes and full lips, he was model perfect. She usually could not be charmed, much less starry-eyed, by such a beautiful man, but she found herself keeping her distance from him and trying not to look his direction.

It was not the reaction she expected. What would I want with a pretty boy, she thought. A horse trainer at that. I’ve been riding horses for two years. He’s been with them for, basically, ever. We have nothing in common. He’s not like my Hank at all.

Hank had been gone for three years now, leaving her a young widow. The good news was that she wasn’t left to raise any children without him. The bad news was that she would have welcomed the chance to raise his children. Photographs and videos couldn’t be hugged in the middle of a bad night, and her memories of their carefree marriage did not feel like much of a legacy.

She caught up with the pair at a stall, where a tall, bright bay stood, craning its neck over the door, as if asking for a treat.

“This is Cat’s Liberty Belle,” Tyler said as he opened the door, then slipped a halter on the horse’s head. He led the mare out and walked her to Emily.

Willie knew better than to say anything, even if she thought the horse was gorgeous, which she did. Emily had told her before they started shopping for a horse, that it was much like buying a car.

“If the seller thinks you’re excited about this horse, it doesn’t leave you a lot of wiggle room with the price,” Emily had said. “And no matter how much you like a horse, everything can change with the vet check.”

Keeping her trainer’s advice in mind, Willie tried to keep the sparkle from her eyes as she looked at the six-year-old mare, who stood quietly with her head down and her back foot cocked in relaxation. In the meantime, she watched Emily run her hand across the horse’s withers, down her back to her rump, then stand back.

“She’s a little bigger than my client needs, but I’d like to try her out,” Emily said.

Willie nodded, if only to look agreeable. This mare was beautiful, but big. At 5’4”, Willie didn’t consider herself tiny, but this horse’s withers looked at least that tall. That meant 16 hands; she had been hoping for something a little shorter, maybe 15 hands, when the horse wore new shoes and stood very straight.

“I’ll throw a saddle on her and meet you in the warm-up arena in fifteen minutes,” Tyler told them and led Belle up to his tack area.

Emily looked at her and turned toward the arenas, so Willie followed. They passed by the row of shopping stands at the edge of the warm-up arena. Most of the displays were empty, and a few were still in the assembly stage. The horse show didn’t officially start until tomorrow, but most of the competitors arrived a day early to set up their stalls and acclimate their horses. Vendors did likewise, just in case someone needed fly spray or new reins.

“She’s awfully big,” Willie told Emily on their way to the arena.

“I know you want something smaller, but she’s a good mover, a good age, and pretty quiet. She’s been shown in pleasure and trail, so she wouldn’t need any new training for you. And I know Tyler.”

Willie cocked an eyebrow at her.

“Not like that.” Emily shook her head, her long auburn ponytail swaying behind her AQHA baseball cap. “I mean, I’ve bought horses from him before. He’s straight-up, always interested in finding a good fit for his buyers. You’d be surprised how many people try to pawn off a horse with a navicular condition or even dope them up so they look super quiet. Tyler’s not like that.”

Willie ran the word ‘navicular’ through the list of horse terms she kept stored in her brain. She knew it had something to do with having bad feet.

They arrived at the arena and sat on the stone wall to wait for the horse. Soon, they saw the tall cowboy leading Belle, who followed along, her head level with her withers, typical of a relaxed Quarter horse.

Emily turned to Willie. “Just remember, this is a two-week show with a lot of horses here. This isn’t the only one we’ll look at. Even if we don’t find your horse here, one of these trainers may have a horse at home for us.”

There had never been an AQHA horse show this large in southern California, but the Los Angeles Equestrian Center had recently expanded, adding four covered arenas and expanding their warm-up areas, thanks to a recent endowment by two legendary actors. Each had taken up horse riding over the years and now competed with each other in reining events as well as at the box office.

In response to their generosity, the center had named an arena for each actor, and in response to the expansion, the American Quarter Horse Association had scheduled a two-week show. Everything from pleasure riding, to jumping, to speed events and cow and ranch horse classes were offered, to showcase the versatility of the breed.

Now Willie sat at the edge of the Kirk T. Williams arena, preparing to buy her first horse and wondering both why she was doing this, and what took her so long.

* * * *

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Looking for Sean

I was talking to my son recently about the movie The Big Sleep. He was looking for a movie to play with for his film scoring class and I gave him The Maltese Falcon, saying that my second choice was The Big Sleep, only because the plot is so convoluted.

The Big Sleep is actually my favorite movie. The dialogue is to die for, and I adore the rainy Los Angeles setting. I think they count this as a noir movie, although it has a happy ending, if you don't count the fact that they have to put Carmen Sternwood in rehab. At least the boy gets the girl.

Is this trailer not perfect?

Back to the plot - it's so mixed up, I barely know where to begin. Phillip Marlowe (who is never addressed as anything but his last name) is hired by a wealthy man to pay off a blackmailer, but everyone else thinks he must be looking for the wealthy man's former bodyguard, Sean Regan.

The plot plays out from there, with at least five murders. Six, if you count Regan. We never see him. He is missing, and the implication is that Eddie Mars has murdered him and hidden the body.

I started thinking about this. What if Sean Regan wasn't murdered?

I'm tempted to write this book, but I'd like to hear from you. What if he escaped? Where did he go? What did he do?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Gayle the Conqueror

I got my 2,000 words done today, but I was hoping for much more. I could have done more, too, if I hadn't been derailed by...


Every year, our house is attacked by angry hordes of flies. The first year it happened, I assumed I had left trash that attracted them. Then I wondered if something had died in our walls. There was no smell, but you never know.

One year we went on vacation. I had cleaned the house, taken out all trash, and when we got home -


I officially have no idea why they show up. I am speaking of HORDES, as in mass quantities of the evil black six-legged icky-poop-eaters. They amass around the windows in our kitchen, family room, and living room. Hundreds of them.

Last evening, I came home from working at the ranch and killed flies. I sprayed, swatted, and swept, then started it all again. I worked for over an hour before I stopped to fix dinner.

When I got up the next morning, I sprayed, swatted, and swept more. In between my coffee, I killed flies. In between writing, I killed flies. In between eating, I killed flies.

By mid-morning, I began to notice that the spray didn't always kill them. Sometimes they laid, in a coma-like state, until I swatted one of their friends, and then they'd take off. It was like having zombie flies. I told Marcus that we had zombie flies and the only way to kill them was to wrap them in a paper towel and feel their bodies pop.

"You're morbid, Mom," he said.

By mid-afternoon, I was attuned to every buzzing noise, every slight thunk of a fly body hitting a window. I also began to wonder if I was just imagining things, like a drunk with DTs.

It is now 6:30 p.m. and I am still on the hunt. I am relentless in my pursuit. None will survive. If I let even one live, they will lay eggs and I will have to do this all over again.

Trust me, I shall be victorious. Until next year...

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